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Almost all concessions hurt villagers: report

A mother feeds her child at an occupied building in the Borei Keila community, earlier this year
A mother feeds her child at an occupied building in the Borei Keila community, earlier this year. Charlotte Pert

Almost all concessions hurt villagers: report

Nearly 100 per cent of Cambodia’s land concessions involve property already in use, inhabited by locals who are in most cases uprooted from their land and livelihood without question or consultation, according to a new report.

The model is typical: in 73,000 concessions in eight studied countries more than 93 per cent involved inhabited land, the report commissioned by land policy organisation Rights and Resources Initiative found.

Yet overlooking the locals doesn’t benefit the concession-holding companies any more than the dispossessed former residents, as disputes, regulatory fines and legal battles prove costly glitches for investor.

“All of these conflicts – and the financial risks that investors confront – are avoidable,” said Andy White, coordinator of Rights and Resources. “The companies and governments implicated need to first fully respect and involve Indigenous Peoples and forest communities in all aspects of proposed investment, not as bystanders who can be pushed aside.”

Analysing 100 land concession conflicts, including three in Cambodia, the researchers found a pattern for how and why these conflicts emerge.

The majority of the disputes evolved at the initial stages when companies set project proposals into action without input from locals.

“Second, risks can be reduced by maintaining strong environmental standards,” the report says, as environmental regulations were the most common source of noncompliance related fines and lawsuits.

Additionally, without strong relations with the community, even well-intentioned relocations or compensation fail.

However, evictees from the Borei Keila community – who had been promised relocation housing in 2003, but found themselves abandoned – said the problem is lack of accountability.

“If the company and the government officials especially had respected and implemented the contracted agreement, our people would have gotten more benefits from this project,” said Chhay Kim Horn, a representative. “It is the authorities and the company together that left us disappointed.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

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